Etihad Airways’ first commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Israel touched down at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, heralding what some hope will mark the beginning of a new era for trade and travel in the region.
Etihad Airways is headquartered in Abu Dhabi and is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
As the plane sat on the tarmac, it was welcomed with a traditional water cannon salute. The crew inside the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, meanwhile, waved the flags of Israel and the UAE from the cockpit’s windows.
On board were Mohamed Al Khaja, the UAE’s first ambassador to Israel; his Israeli counterpart, Eitan Na’eh; and Tony Douglas, CEO of Etihad Aviation Group. All passengers and crew were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
A welcome reception was held inside the airport shortly after landing, with Douglas, Al Khaja and others addressing the diplomatic officials, business representatives and press that were present.
“Today is a hugely significant moment in Etihad’s history, as we operate our first scheduled commercial flight into Tel Aviv,” Douglas said. “Last year, we witnessed the UAE and Israel make history when signing the Abraham Accords, and we are tremendously excited about the opportunities this poses for Etihad and our home, Abu Dhabi.”
Douglas lauded the warm welcome in Israel, and noted that a delegation of the UAE’s “finest tourism and hospitality operators” were on board the flight.
“These business leaders will not only showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-leading tourism destination, but also reinforce the emirate’s robust and united response towards wellness,” he said.
Al Khaja said he was honored to have been on the flight that marked the start of his official duties as the first ambassador of the UAE to Israel. He also spoke about the “warm peace” between the two countries.
“Since the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE last summer the two countries have worked together to embark upon a new and dynamic era of cooperation,” Al Khaja said. “As we move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be plenty of reasons to visit us in the UAE.”
Tuesday’s historic flight comes just months after both countries normalized ties with the Abraham Accords. Initially, Etihad Airways will offer two weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. All passengers will be required to present a vaccination certification or negative COVID-19 test before boarding.
Importantly, Israeli travelers to Abu Dhabi will no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival thanks to being added to Abu Dhabi’s “green list.” Until now, Israelis could only enter Abu Dhabi after spending 10 days in Dubai and subject to testing for the coronavirus.
The new flight route is roughly 3.5 hours long and is expected to bolster travel and tourism between Israel and the UAE, which boast two of the highest vaccination rates in the world. A number of other airlines currently offer direct flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai, among them FlyDubai and Israel’s national air carrier, El Al.
Under current pandemic health regulations, Israel remains closed to most foreign nationals; however, Israelis themselves are free to travel abroad to countries where permitted.